Hamilton County jury trials return with safety protocol

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The old adage of the wheels of justice turn slowly was changed to the wheels being brought to a sudden stop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hamilton Superior Court 4 Judge Richard Campbell conducted the county’s first jury trial July 23, the first since trials in the county courthouse in Noblesville were suspended March 18. As of Sept. 1, Campbell has presided over two more six-person jury trials.

Hamilton Superior Court 2 Judge Jonathan Brown conducted the first 12-person jury trial in August.

“It a lot harder with 12 people, but it works well for the courts on the second floor with the six-person jury trial,” Campbell said.

The six-person trials are for misdemeanors and low-level felonies. All civic trials are six-person juries.

Campbell said it received permission from the Indiana Supreme Court to conduct trials in July. Campbell said the jurors who have been called to duty have been understanding of the safety measures.

“The jury boxes are too small,” Campbell said for the six feet social distancing required. “We have to spread them out in the gallery, where the audience normally sits. When we recess or they deliberate, our jury rooms are too small, too. We have to find larger rooms in the courthouse for the jury.”

Campbell said if there is room, people can attend the trials.

“The back room of the gallery is reserved for anyone who wants to watch,” he said. “Normally all the trials are pretty sparsely attended, it’s just family members and friends.”

Campbell said the jury and most in the courtroom have to wear a mask. An exception is made for attorneys, clients and the parties at their tables.

“The primary reason is it’s hard to understand someone when they speak when they are wearing a mask,” Campbell said. I like to have the witnesses take them off when they testify. We had one witness objected to taking it off, so we let that witness leave the mask on.”

Campbell usually doesn’t wear a mask on the bench but does elsewhere in the courthouse.

Hamilton Superior Court 6 Judge Gail Bardach was glad when trials restarted.

“Our constitution did not take a holiday during the pandemic,” Bardach stated. “People do still have the right to have their cases tried and heard”

Campbell said there was getting to be a backlog throughout the state.

In order to fill a jury, more jurors have been and will be summoned than in the past to account for those who request to be excused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safety measures like temperatures checks of potential jurors are taken when entering the Judicial Center.

All prospective jurors are given their own hand sanitizer to use. Additional bottles of hand sanitizer are spread throughout the courtroom, jury rooms, and the jury assembly room. Court staff will use a disinfecting spray to sanitize surfaces in the courtroom throughout jury selection and the trial itself.

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